July 18, 2008

RTI Reveals City Highrises Are Fire Traps

MUMBAI: Several highrises in the city are violating fire safety norms blatantly. Even the development control (DC) rules, framed by the state government to streamline the construction of highrises, are relaxed by the BMC to such an extent that fire safety norms are often overlooked. This was revealed in a Right to Information application filed by a panel of civic activists. Developers of every highrise, defined as any multi-storey over 24 floors, are supposed to follow special fire safety provisions .

But the application, filed by Krishnaraj Rao, activist and crusader of the pedestrian satyagraha movement, found that most highrises do not leave the mandatory open space. In many cases, there is hardly any distance between the building and the compound wall, making it very difficult for fire safety measures to be implemented in case of emergencies.

Besides, many buildings do not implement the mandatory active and passive measures. "Senior fire officials explained that passive measures, like having a clean stairwell and a passage way, are ignored. It is also necessary to have a 'refuge floor' after every eight floors or 24 metres. The idea is that in case of an emergency, people can run up or down and land on the refuge floor," said Rao.

He added that it was also necessary to have a firewall in the parking space of buildings. "The firewall ensures that the fire does not spread but it is almost never included." Also, the biggest hazard is the presence of two basements, which make evacuation difficult. "Ventilation at such times is also nil, making it easier for the flames to spread quickly," Rao said.

According to a fire official, a basement parking is a serious threat as cars operating on inflammable fuels come together here. "There is petrol, diesel, CNG-all under one roof, without necessary safety measures. A small trigger can cause a big explosion," he said.

Another big drawback is the height of the gate. "A building gate should be 4.5 m wide and if there is an arch, it is 4.5 m. But they are much smaller. Also, the distance between two highrises is rather small. Fire officials said that there are two buildings near Prarthna Samaj-one is a ground plus 28 and the other ground plus 32- both at the distance of merely three metres. There are many such buildings in the city," said activist Gaurang Vora.

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